I have a theory that everyone should have to work two years in the service industry before they can go on to whatever fabulous life they are supposed to have. It would be like the mandatory army service that some other countries enforce, and it wouldn’t matter whether you were Kate Moss or Paris Hilton or one of those horrible Gotti monkey-boys. You would still have to suck it up and sling drinks or wait tables or nurse sick people at whatever crap establishment needed the employee. I truly believe that this would create a whole lot more humility and compassion in the world.
So this is the job blog and these are the things I am learning to be true about jobs:
—Jobs are just like any other relationship. There can be all kinds of sickness in them or all kinds of love and support and it is up to you to choose.
—If you feel in your gut that your job is wrong for you, or doesn’t make you feel good, then you shouldn’t be there. This is regardless of how many people tell you it’s a great position and you should be grateful. A job can look great on paper but not feel right. How do you feel when you get home after work? Do you feel drained and miserable, or tired but satisfied? Do your coworkers treat you with respect or disdain? Trust your inner voice! It’s telling you the truth.
—All jobs (and means of finance) are just the channel, not the source, and the source is infinite. Infinite! Meaning that there is enough for you to have all kinds of bounty coming in from the Universe, and that if you cut one channel off, another one will open up. And if you cut off a weak channel (like a job that is just trickling tiny bits of cash or making you feel like a piece of garbage every day) a better one will almost always open up.
I’m not talking about quitting every time you have a bad day, or about refusing to get a job and mooching off friends and lovers because you feel you should be a rock star. We all have to eat and no one likes a deadbeat. And sometimes as musicians and artists we have to take on work that we don’t totally love to help fund what we really want to do, and there’s nothing wrong with that if the job is tolerable. What I’m talking about is looking at work with the same scrutinizing eye that you look at potential friends and (hopefully) lovers, so that you are not spending years or even days in something that drains you of energy or makes you feel bad about yourself.
I have personally spent a lot of time clinging to rotten jobs that I didn’t really like out of some weird terror of free-falling. That’s my own particular psychosis, connected to all kinds of childhood crap (as most of our psychoses are). I have been seriously broke and nervous about money in my life, but not to the point that I should be as pathologically responsible and terrified of unemployment as I am. I am rarely jobless and usually have too much work, and this can be just as much of a sickness as never working.
So here is the story of one of the worst jobs I’ve had, for your entertainment. Plus I like to get these stories down in case I ever pull that book together:
Many years ago, in the early 90’s and after the Sluts broke up, I hit an employment nadir during one of the worst winters NYC has seen. The only commercial thing I knew how to do was bartend, and the only job I could find at the time was at a place called the Grand. The Grand was where the old Cat Club was, on 13th and 4th Avenue, now it’s Plaid. Or maybe it’s changed again? I don’t pay any attention anymore.
Suffice to say that it certainly wasn’t the warm and loving hairspray haven that the Cat Club was. It was the coldest of reminders, both literally and figuratively, that I was no longer a rock star. I had managed to climb my way out of service jobs and into a record deal, and had graced the stage in that room many times, opening for Jane’s Addiction, modeling in silly fashion shows, announcing friends’ bands, showcasing for Gene Simmons, etc. And yet somehow there I was again–back behind the bar.
That winter was brutally cold, with one snowstorm following another, and The Grand had no heat. So essentially you would start out the night only a few degrees above what the temperature was outside and hope that enough bodies showed up to warm the place up a little. They would overstaff every evening with pretty, desperate girls, and we would all hop around for hours blowing on our hands at our icey stations while wearing long johns under jeans, layers of shirts under sweaters, knit hats, and fingerless gloves. Every party was a bomb and the music was whatever godawful dance shit was popular during that period. A pathetic trickle of hip-hop dance types would meander in to order complicated drinks, usually without tipping, and we had to put each measly dollar we obtained into a lock box with a slit on the top. Then at the end of the night it would be counted out in front of the manager. Usually the tips would amount to 20-30 bucks.
Suffice to say I was barely making enough to survive. And I was becoming more and more crazily depressed with each night of work, followed by days off staying home alone and eating cheap food because I had no money or self-esteem to socialize. I felt like a total piece of shit, buried in the same clothing layers day after day, the music and the crowd absolutely deadened my soul, and being so cold for hours on end made me teary and constantly on the verge of hysteria. I called whatever city agency you’re supposed to alert when your employer won’t heat your workspace and I started crying as soon as someone answered the phone and had to be calmed down by the poor woman on the other end. And yet I kept slogging through the snow and showing up because I hadn’t found another job and I was terrified of just letting go.
Because the club wasn’t making any money they would make us stand around and wait each week to get paid. One week the manager said, “Well, someone took in counterfeit cash and so you all have to pay the price. We’re splitting it amongst everyone. That’s what you’ll be getting paid with this week.” So I got my crappy little $30 ($10 bucks per shift) in fake tens. I spent the money in a drug store near my apt where I knew the Ukrainian cashiers wouldn’t notice. I still cringe a little every time I walk past there.
The whole time I was working at the Grand people kept calling me Tanya and getting upset that I didn’t remember them. I would have to explain that I wasn’t Tanya at least once a night. Who the hell was Tanya? So one evening, during yet another shitty party in which a group of idiots stole a bottle of champagne from my station and had to be hunted down by yours truly (so I wouldn’t have to pay for it myself), a very short and absolutely fish-faced woman (but with long black hair) came up to the bar and said: “You’re Raffaele, right? ‘Cause I’m Tanya. Isn’t it crazy how much we look alike?” I started laughing because, well, sometimes those incredibly crappy moments in life are kind of funny.
Anyhoo, somehow Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains wandered in one night. We had met a couple of years prior and had actually made out after one of his gigs. It never amounted to anything, just drunken silliness, but he is a sweetheart and was totally friendly and happy to see me. It was mortifying. The last time I had seen him I had a fabulous rock and roll life, I was wearing something cool and surrounded by friends. Now I was bartending in a snowsuit in a total dump. It was so painful that I couldn’t relax and talk to him properly, although he was such a gentleman that he never acknowledged that anything was different for me.
On one good night they managed to book Michelle N’dege Ochello. It was very hip, diverse, mostly lesbian crowd and among them was Queen Latifah, who I love. Queen Latifah and her friends stationed themselves at my bar for the whole show, and bought round after round of drinks. I was so terrified of getting fired that I never gave them one free drink. She tipped me well and was gracious throughout, although at one point she made a comment about how I “never let her slide”. She was wondering where the buyback was, not in any kind of demanding way, but she and I both knew it was due. I felt so sad not be able to acknowledge how wonderful I thought she was by simply buying her a round. It was such a feeling of powerlessness.
New Years rolled around and I worked a dyke dance party while all my friends rocked out somewhere else. I spent the night humoring a coked out older woman in a captain’s hat who had decided she wanted to fuck me. To keep my attention she threw a five at me now and again and that was enough to warrant whoring myself out and giving her the extra attention she wanted. It was an incredibly lonely way to ring in the new year and I don’t think I made more than a hundred bucks.
I ran into my very dear friend and future Squeezebox creator Michael Schmidt on the street a few days later and when he asked me how I was doing I burst into tears (my hobby at that point). He gave me all the cash he had in his pockets and told me to quit the job. I was so grateful, but I was totally terrified at the thought of being completely jobless.
That same night I went into work and did my usual shift for another dud party. After that early party a large crowd of people started filing in and the music got louder. It actually looked like it was going to be a lucrative night, and I perked up and started pouring drinks and ringing like it meant something. For a short time anyway.
A few minutes into the party a very tackily dressed and snotty-attituded blonde came into my station, plopped her tip box down, and said, “I’m supposed to work here.” I told her to fuck off, of course, thinking she was just confused and stupid. We got into it, and before it got too ugly I went to the office to find the manager and ask him to escort the crazy bitch from my spot. The manager informed me that she was the new girlfriend of the owner and she was indeed going to be working the rest of the night in my place, for one of the first lucrative parties they’d booked. I was out, she was in. Unbelievable.
So I slammed my shit around and burst into tears (again!) and freaked out, far above and beyond what the situation merited but I had spent a whole winter freezing and completely depressed and this was simply too much to bear. The manager felt badly, but the owner wasn’t there and obviously didn’t give a shit. And I couldn’t even leave without counting out the goddamn bank because my tips were in the lockbox and no one was going to give them to me until I finished the job. So I cried, cursed, and counted, and then stomped out.
And then, the very next day someone very dear to me called and asked if I would manage a new club that he was putting together, which was Coney Island High, and which ended up being amazing, as you all know (well, at least for a while, but that’s a whole other blog). So I was floored. I might as well have borrowed a few hundred bucks from my mom and lounged around with my friends for the winter with the same profit level and a much lower pain index.
So, as with all my long-winded tales, there is a point I’m trying to get across. Which is simply that if you are suffering, if you are somewhere where you have no internal power, you are not supposed to be there. And sometimes if you stay in the place of pain, you aren’t allowing the space for something more rewarding and loving to come in. I have been handed this particular lesson over and over, and I’m only now getting it completely. The jobs were never as bad as that again, but I still have had to work to find the courage to move from unhappy work situations when I feared that I wouldn’t find anything better or that somehow my world would collapse if I didn’t have a job for two minutes. But every time I ignore that voice of fear in my brain and follow my gut and just step out of the shit, I am rewarded. And usually within the week, I swear to God.
So I want to pass this on to you in case you are festering in a bad job right now. There are a million ways to earn money out there and I want you to find one that you like. I figure the more of us that are happy and well-fed out there, the better parties we can have. I want to stand next to you in an expensive outfit with a fancy cocktail in my hand while we congratulate ourselves on how fabulous we are. So get cracking!
P.S. I wrote this blog a few days before Katrina hit and forgot to post it right away. Now a crappy job seems a fairly benign thing compared to what people are going through and have lost down South. So I want to reiterate one more time–take a minute to look at what you have, at the people you love and the life you lead, and be grateful. It could always be so much worse. And if you are in the financial position to help, make sure to take a minute to donate what you can.